MYEFO impacts on cultural institutions – but still some mystery about what War Memorial money is for

The Mid-Year Economic and Financial Outlook (MYEFO) statement came out this week and included these paragraphs relevant to national cultural institutions:

The Government will provide $20.4 million over five years from the Public Service Modernisation Fund — Agency Sustainability Stream to support innovation, productivity improvements and efficiency in the National Library of Australia (NLA) and the Australian War Memorial (AWM).

This measure includes $16.4 million over four years from 2016-17 to the NLA for digitisation of material and upgrade of critical infrastructure for its Trove digital information resource and to upgrade other critical infrastructure; and $4.0 million over four years from 2017-18 (including $1.0 million in 2020-21) to ensure that the AWM can continue to deliver its core activities under the Australian War Memorial Act 1980. (p. 140)

The National Librarian has put out a circular to staff giving more detail on how the money will be spent to ‘enable the Library to support Trove to meet Australian’s expectations for continued and contemporary access to large-scale digital collections; to upgrade critical Information Technology infrastructure; and to support other vital programs and services’.

Any boost for the excellent Trove is welcome. Honest History asked the War Memorial yesterday for more information about what its $4 million will be spent on. The Memorial referred us to the Treasurer’s office, who referred us to Minister Tehan’s office, who referred us back to Treasury. We’ll keep trying. (Further advice was received from the Treasurer’s office on 22 December: ‘We have nothing more to add to the statement provided in MYEFO’.)

There were hints last year and earlier this year (scroll down to Steve Gower’s cravat) that the Memorial was looking for more money from government to expand its exhibition space. Then, at Estimates in October, there was some coy fencing between Director Nelson and honourable Senators about this issue (pages 143, 144, 146).

It would be nice to know if the Memorial’s $4 million is to be used to build more galleries – if it is, that relatively small sum might need to be augmented with funds from the Memorial’s reserves or from the Memorial’s corporate donors (both of these sources helped pay for the refurbished World War I galleries at the Memorial) – and, if so, what is to go in the new space – battered kit from one of our unsuccessful recent wars or, on the other hand, exhibits depicting the impact of war on people not in uniform and on non-Australians. It is to be hoped the Memorial’s excellent Holocaust exhibition recently opened is not a one-off example of a more mature and universalist outlook at the Memorial.

David Stephens

21 December 2016 updated